Trump's EPA Scraps Expert Advisory Committee Focused on Deadly Air Pollution

Air pollution fucking sucks.
Air pollution fucking sucks.
Photo: Getty

The Environmental Protection Agency killed a panel responsible for providing scientific expertise on particulate matter Thursday, according to an internal email the agency sent former panel members, which Earther obtained. This class of pollutants isn’t always on the public’s mind, but it should be.

Advertisement

Particulate matter refers to small particles that spew out of car exhaust and industrial smokestacks. These particles can enter a person’s lungs and reach their heart, triggering a variety of diseases including cancer. Particulate matter is an especially pernicious threat to the low-income families and communities of color who live closest to pollution sources like power plants or highways.

That’s why the government’s dismantling of the Particulate Matter Review Panel is so concerning. The panel, first convened in 2010 to help develop the first National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter, consists of subject matter experts who offer their knowledge to help the EPA determine if regulations surrounding particulate matter need to be strengthened, weakened, or stay the same. With the panel disbanded, the EPA’s expertise on this deadly class of pollutants is lessened.

Advertisement

Ana Diez Roux, dean of Drexel University’s School of Public Health, was the first chair of the panel. Her job—and that of the rest of the 18 to 25 people who sit on the panel—was to review the federal air quality standards once every five years. She was consistently impressed during her time there “by the rigor, the objectivity, and dedication” the panel members—academics, scientists, and engineerings—displayed when asked to offer their advice.

“The fact that this is being dismantled in a number of different ways is very, very worrisome and could have major implications for public health in this country,” Diez Roux told Earther.

Expert advisory panels like this one currently exist for the other air pollutants the agency is required to regulate under the Clean Air Act, like lead and ozone. But the EPA was clear when it announced its “Back-to-Basics” memorandum in May that it wanted to simplify the review process for air quality standards, including particulate matter. Shuttering this panel could help the agency wrap up this review faster.

Advertisement

“Removing the science is one way you speed up the process at the expense of our health,” Gretchen Goldman, a research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists told Earther.

Now, this review process will be left to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). CASAC has been around since 1977 to provide independent consultation to the EPA on clean air regulation. The seven person committee always played a role in reviewing particulate matter standards, but its job came after the expert panel had already offered its guidance.

Advertisement

Wheeler announced five new CASAC members on Wednesday, who join two others picked by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt chose a smog denier to head up the board last fall.

Advertisement

If the EPA desires a certain outcome from this review, seven people are easier to convince than nearly 30. The EPA confirmed CASAC would be taking on this task but did not respond to Earther’s questions on why it killed the Particulate Matter Review Panel in the first place. (It also didn’t to the New York Times, which was the first to report the news.)

Still, this move away from science is in line with the current trend of sidelining scientific expertise at the EPA. The agency has recently proposed to keep important health research out of policy, and it’s killed other expert advisory committees while stocking its main science advisory board with industry types.

Advertisement

If the EPA is down with more mercury in the air, no one should be all that surprised at its indifference toward particulate matter. Maybe the agency will simply leave its particulate matter standards alone, but it’s damn near impossible they’ll be strengthened.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

Welcome to the Client Focussed EPA. As they say in the environmental expert business, “We don’t do science. We do clients.”

The link Yessenia presented gives a list of who’s sitting on the CASAC panel. All the folks are smart and probably present well in public. The chairman is Tony Cox. He’s got a resume that would make anybody looking to play hide the risk sausage very impressed. Harvard, MIT, phrases like “real world” in work experience.

Put it this way. Academics and non profits that actually give a shit about poor or other kinds of folks (downwind receptors) don’t make dick. The real money in expertise is finding ways to continue polluting or ways to not clean up a mess. This is when expert/consulting billable rate goes from $75 to $150 an hour to $250 to $750 an hour. Experts working for lawyers could negotiate witness rates even higher, if the clients’ balls are being squeezed in a vice. And you need a lifetime supply of Ambien to sleep at night.

Environmental justice folks may want to backup emotional pleas with MIT level epidemiology or other areas of study analyses going forward. Trump is making us all less caring about others right now.

With all that said, EPA isn’t just about optimization and client focus. It’s overall mission is to protect human health and the environment - acting on behalf of humans breathing in all that shit - but don’t make money on that shit being directly discharged to the atmosphere.

Inefficiencies in and a diverse group on an EPA study panels is good. Smart folks know how to move large panels forward. And who really wants to sit on a review or study panel. Dweebs, maybe?

One thing... when I think of science and scientist I don’t think of Union of Concerned Scientists. Move up the food chain for opinion quotes. UCS may have more communications majors than scientists on staff. Same with most NGOs.